Salento Sans BYO

PFF rang in the 2011-2012 school year with a trip to Salento! Qingxin had a Groupon we had to use before it expired, so Qingxin, Luke, and I hopped on the trolley and got off shortly at the 22nd Street stop, which is just a couple blocks from the Italian BYO (fyi, we didn’t bring anything extra with us). The moment we walked inside, the place was DESERTED. It was a bit eerie, to tell the truth. (We joked that Qingxin didn’t just make a reservation for dinner, but rather rented out the entire place.) Of course, this just meant we had undivided attention from the servers, which is always nice!

Once we ordered our food, they instantly served us a half loaf of bread, along with a bruschetta-like tomato topping. (I always think of it as Italian salsa, haha.) (Luke also requested some olive oil for the bread, whereupon the waiter exclaimed to the other waiter across the room, “Get them some of our finest olive oil!”) This starter to our dinner was very good. The bread was still warm from the oven, emitting steam as we tore into it. The soft interior of the loaf was just a touch too dense for my taste, but had a good flavor and nicely balanced the acidity of the tomatoes. We liked it so much that we went through two half-loaves. Luke cynically assumed they simply warmed the bread to mask that it was stale, but he still ate more than his share.

Luke went with Parmigiana di melanzane, an $8.50 appetizer that he ate as his meal. This was a traditional eggplant parmesan, where thin slices of eggplant were layered with tomato, mozzarella, and hard boiled egg. He found the dish rather uninspiring and gave it a ★★, claiming it to be “average” and “nothing special.”

Qingxin selected Linguini alla pugliese. Mussels, shrimp, calamari, zucchini pesto, and fresh tomato adorned the “little tongues” of pasta. She enjoyed the combination of seafood and pasta and considered the dish good. It wasn’t spectacular to her, however. She found it “not worth the price” ($17.50) and “wouldn’t go again even with a Groupon”; she gave it a ★★★.

I chose Orecchiette al’anatra ($16). The “little ear” pasta was topped with shredded braised duck, thyme, and shaved grana. I thought it was neat how the thin, hard slices of cheese were placed just so over the noodles and duck, melting to create a thin blanket when they warmed up from the dish’s heat. The noodles were cooked just right, soft but with the faintest al dente bite. There was a generous amount of duck, reminding me of duck confit. I’m not a huge fan of cream-based sauces (but I completely understand why you wouldn’t use a red sauce with this type of dish), but fortunately the white sauce was not completely overwhelming and simply served to coat the pasta. Pricing was a bit steep, but I guess you can’t win in this economy. My rating? I give it a ★★★1/2.

We had a relaxing, nicely paced meal (where we were also able to plan out logistics for Philly’s Restaurant Week coming up!). Don’t worry, the place got a few more dining patrons during our time there, but overall I must point out that the service at Salento is very good. The waiters were very attentive and constantly refilled our water and restocked our bread, but also knew when to back off and give us space to have an intimate dinner with friends.

Our evening closed with a quick trip to Trader Joe’s (where I introduced Qingxin to the magic of their excellent Mini Peanut Butter Cups), then a customary walk back home.

Salento ★★★
2216 Walnut St.
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